Museum of the North brings ‘Power’ to the people

Rebecca Coleman / Sun Star Reporter
May 3, 2011

Throughout the past year, the UA Museum of the North has been developing an exhibition about Alaska power and energy sources called Power Play.  The exhibition includes interactive displays geared towards helping people understand how energy sources work in an approachable way.

“The exhibition explains what energy sources are in the state, how do they work, how are we using them, and how can we balance them for the future,” said Carol Diebel, the museum director.

The interactive displays feature all of the power sources that are dominant in Alaska: wind, geothermal, solar, biomass, hydroelectric and fossil fuels. In the future, Alaska has the potential to draw energy from tidal waves, but since that isn’t a well-developed source of power now they’ve excluded it from the exhibit.

Among the interactives is a city engine.  Visitors will have to power a model city using a variety of Alaska power sources that are represented by marbles.  “It’s sort of like a video game in 3D,” Diebel said.

There is also a wind tunnel that lets users experience how different blades of wind turbines affect generated power from different wind types.

Another of the interactive features is a digital game that lets visitors see how their choice of energy sources affects the cost of energy. Scores will be kept track of and can be viewed online, so visitors can compete with each other. This game is based on a model created by Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA), who has been trying to find a formula to keep energy costs down, Diebel said. GVEA has the largest stored battery in the world, which stores energy that can be used later, such as during power outages.

All of the display boards for the exhibition were done in-house and use Alaska numbers and examples, according to Diebel. One such display shows a comparison of energy used to power various appliances by using husky power. The display answers the question, “How many huskies does it take running x miles-per-hour to power a stove?”

The exhibition officially opens to the public Saturday, May 28 and will run until mid December. This will ensure that it can be viewed by all of the international viewers during tourist season, as well as educational groups in the fall.

When the exhibition ends, all of the interactive features and display boards will go to the new Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) building. ACEP helped the museum with staff costs, some design, fundraising and other areas on almost every level of the exhibition.

The exhibit is aimed at a mixed-generation audience, so kids and scientists alike will learn something new and enjoy the hands-on activities.

“We want to make this fun,” Diebel said.  “That’s why it’s called Power Play.  We want you to come play with power.  It’s not like reading a textbook.”

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